263046 Gunner James William Precious
C Battery, CCLVI Brigade, Royal Field Artillery
James William Precious was born in Melbourne, near Pocklington in 1892. He was the son of Isaac Edward Precious, a farm labourer, originally from Norfolk, and Mary Sarah (nee Kirby). He was the second child of thirteen born the marriage of Isaac and Mary.
By the age of nine, James precious was living with his uncle and aunt (Mary’s sister), William and Louisa Lund at Rytham Gate, close to Seaton Ross. William Lund was a drainer and dyker working to ensure that the flat land in the area was kept usable for agriculture.
The 1911 census shows that James Precious was working for a local farmer called Henry Pears at Everingham, and he was employed as a waggoner. It is likely that his knowledge and experience of driving horses and their care steered him towards the Royal Field Artillery when he joined the Army.
He married Jane Anne Gudgeon at the Register Office in Tadcaster, on 4th December 1915. Jane Gudgeon was the daughter of a farm labourer from Scholes, and by this time James Precious was living in Barwick and was employed as a coal miner, probably in Garforth. The timing of the marriage could be significant in that the Military Service Act was due to be enacted in late January, 1916. This legislation was brought in to stabilise the flow of recruits into the armed services, particularly the army. One important function of the act was that it was intended to make under-age enlistment impossible. It also clarified which employment categories were to be protected, thus ensuring that vital industries kept hold of men they could not afford to lose. Initially the act resulted in unmarried men under the age of 41 years being deemed to have been enlisted, and as a result many men got married in order to delay their call-up. The crucial date was set as 2nd November 1915, and so, unless James Precious had another reason as to why he should be exempted from call-up, his December marriage to Jane would not satisfy the regulations. In November 1915, four lists of occupations were published which were scheduled as being vitally important for war work. Lists B and C covered occupations in the coal industry.
Jesse Precious, James’s brother, joined the 5th (Reserve) Battalion, the West Yorkshire Regiment on 19th June 1918 at the age of 19 and he gave his address as Moor Farm, Swinefleet, Goole. Jesse survived the war.
James Precious was in C Battery, CCLVI (256th) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. This was a unit of the Territorial Force. It had been in existence prior to the Great War breaking out, but had been titled 2nd Highland Brigade, RFA. It had batteries raised at Dundee, Arbroath and Leven. The Brigade served throughout the war with 51st (Highland) Division, a First line Territorial Force Division. For most of the war it operated 18 lbr guns.
According to the war diary compiled by 256th Brigade, C Battery was in positions near Asquillies in Belgium, a small village south of Mons at the time that James Precious died. The diary records, over the days preceding his death, enemy fire on their positions which wounded one or two other ranks on each occasion. War diaries for the Great War rarely name soldiers below commissioned rank, and so it is not possible to tell which day James Precious received the wounds from which he died.
He was originally buried in Asquillies Churchyard, some 70 miles from Cement House Cemetery, in Langemark, where his grave is now. His grave was moved in 1953 as part of a rationalisation programme to reduce the number of scattered burial sites that the CWGC had to maintain. At the time, only one cemetery in each country was ‘open’ for new, or relocated burials, and that is why his remains were reburied at Cement House Cemetery.According to the data held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, James Precious was the last member of his battery to die in the war.
After the war, the next of kin of men and women who had died as a result of their service in any of the armed forces, were issued with a bronze memorial plaque embossed with their name. The uniface plaque was designed to be mounted in a frame and, perhaps, displayed on the mantlepiece of the family home, or hung on the wall. In early 2020, I was contacted by someone who had grown up in Scholes but had since moved away. As a boy he had been fascinated by all things military and spent much of his time talking to the then middle-aged men who had come home from it, and the widows and family of those who had not. On the death of Mrs Precious, he was bequeathed this memorial plaque, and he kept it in pristine condition for about 50 years. The man now thought the time was right to pass the plaque on to someone else who shared the same fascination, and he contacted me via this website to offer the plaque into my safekeeping. I am grateful to be thought worthy of being its keeper, and I will preserve it, as he did, so that it survives long into the future.
Note: Regarding the cap badge shown above being a RFA variant, this simply means that the more usual 'UBIQUE' scroll between the crown and the gun is replaced with a spray of laurels. This is because when it was created the Territorial Force was intended to serve within the UK and therefore the 'UBIQUE' motto, which translates as 'Everywhere', was redundant.